Tiny Backyard Houses For Homeless Under Construction In Seattle

Jul 26, 2017

While some people use their back yard as a garden or a place for kids to play, one group in Seattle wants homeowners to consider another purpose for the space behind their homes: An opportunity to provide housing for those experiencing homelessness.

Facing Homelessness is the organization managing the BLOCK Project, an initiative to build micro-housing for the homeless in Seattlites' back yards.

Four homeowners have said they would host one of the 125-square-foot homes. 

A BLOCK home in Kim Sherman and Dan Tenenbaum's back yard in the Beacon Hill neighborhood is nearly complete.

The Deep End First

Sherman and Tenenbaum have spent most of their lives in Seattle. They have watched the city's homeless population grow, but felt like the problem was too big for them to handle.

"We were just sad and not doing much except feeling sad," Sherman said.

But after Facing Homelessness put out a call for volunteers for the BLOCK Project, they said it was easy to say yes.

Dan Tenenbaum
Credit Simone Alicea / KNKX

Now the couple also helps clean trash from homeless encampments and volunteers with other groups around the city.

"We kind of dove into the deep end by doing something major like this," Tenenbaum said.

Just Like Any Other Neighbor

The homes are intended to be self-sufficient with solar panels and compost toilets. 

The first home will connect to Sherman and Tenenbaum's water system, but subsequent BLOCK homes are expected to run independently.

The couple also met with their neighbors to make sure they were okay with construction and a new tenant. 

"We certainly don't want to make people uncomfortable," Tenenbaum said. "We want to heal. We don't want to cause anymore trauma."

The couple said the neighbors they spoke with were supportive of their decision.

Sherman said they also felt supported by Facing Homelessness and the Chief Seattle Club, which will be helping with social services. If the couple were to have a problem, they could troubleshoot with those organizations.

Kim Sherman
Credit Simone Alicea / KNKX

Having someone move into their back yard was just like welcoming any other neighbor, Sherman said. She told a story about how some volunteers lamented that she would lose parts of her garden as the house went up.

"And I just think yeah, but somebody's going to be housed. There's a person who's not living on the street anymore," Sherman said.

That person is expected to move into the home in August.